WHALES: Watershed Heroes

We believe every student can be a "Watershed Hero!" That's why Coastkeeper created W.H.A.L.E.S.: Watershed Heroes- Actions Linking Education to Stewardship. The program introduces local students to watershed and ecological concepts through in-class exercises and field trips at no cost to schools. Since 2005, the WHALES Program has reached thousands of junior high and high school students across Orange County and the Inland Empire... and we're still growing! Our WHALES Program goals are:

  • To increase junior high and high school students' participation and achievement in STEM fields through in-class and field activities;
  • To increase environmental literacy and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education by challenging students to think, write, and speak critically about local coastal protection issues; and
  • To foster in our students environmental stewardship and community involvement as they enter adulthood.

Want to involve your school or class?

Contact Education Coordinator Dyana Pena at 714-850-1965 Ext 305 or dyana@coastkeeper.org


Coastkeeper works with a diverse range of students and classes from enthusiastic 6th graders to high school seniors seeking experience in environmental science careers. Students are typically from Environmental Science, Marine Science, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science and AVID classes. We have also modified our curriculum to be more effective for students with developmental and mental disabilities, students from various cultural backgrounds, and students for whom English is a second language.

2012-2013 WHALES Participants!

  • Carl Hankey Middle School- Mission Viejo, 6th Grade Science
  • Chavez High School- Santa Ana, Chemistry, Life Science & Earth Science
  • Costa Mesa High School- AP Environmental Science & Marine Science
  • Estancia High School- Costa Mesa, Marine Science
  • Godinez High School- Santa Ana, AP Environmental Science
  • La Habra High School- AP Environmental Science
  • Ladera Ranch Middle School- Ladera Ranch, 7th Grade Science
  • Lathrop Intermediate- AVID Program
  • Lorin Griset Academy- Santa Ana, Biology, Chemistry
  • Orange County Educational Arts Academy (OCEAA)- Santa Ana, 6th Grade Science
  • Orange High School- AP Environmental Science
  • Rancho Alamitos High School- Garden Grove, AP Environmental Science, Special Education, English Language Development
  • Rancho Canada Elementary- Lake Forest, Special Education
  • Santa Ana High School- Earth Science
  • Shorecliffs Middle School- 6th Grade Science
  • Troy High School- Fullerton, AP Environmental Science
  • Vista Del Mar Middle School- San Clemente, Special Education


Throughout the school year, Coastkeeper works directly with participating teachers to carry out educational activities that fit their students' needs. While some classes participate in multiple field trips during the year, others may be able to do 1 or 2 in-class lessons and field trips. Activities include water quality testing, water treatment plant tours, habitat restoration and monitoring of coastal ecosystems.


Student Voices:

"It was a better way of understanding things face-to-face and hands on."

"We learned a lot in class, but we could really see the impact through Orange County Coastkeeper."

"I didn't know science could be this fun!"

Water Quality Testing at local creek
Touring a Water Treatment Plant
Marine Life Inventory

Teacher Perspectives:

"WHALES allows students to meet people whose job is to protect the environment, experience the work for themselves, and make a difference in our community. They are given a rare opportunity to learn meaningful content outside the walls of the classroom." - AP Environmental Science Teacher

"I brought ELDA students- students who had been in this country less than a year. Almost every experience was new to them and educational. Our students had a terrific day. They learned a great deal, but even more than that, they had their eyes opened to all sorts of possibilities that might not have otherwise occurred to them." - English Language Development Science Teacher

Meeting with Environmental Professionals
Habitat Restoration
Beach Clean-up

"All activates were engaging and informative. Running small groups made for wonderful connection between presenter and students. My students felt safe to ask questions, are interested in learning more. So many of my students have come back to school telling their different teachers what they saw, touched, and learned." - Special Education Science Teacher

"We have found the program to be extremely beneficial in helping our students understand the environment and make it come alive, especially our wetlands. Some of our students have never been to the beach, although it is less than 10 miles away." - AVID Teacher

"Kids come up to me at the end of the year saying that they see the world in an entirely new way and will make lifelong changes based on the course, and WHALES is a huge part of that awakening." - AP Environmental Science Teacher

Harbor Seal at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center
Collecting stream-bed critters for bioassessment

Orange County Coastkeeper, Inland Empire Waterkeeper and the Coastal Conservation Network do not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, religion, color, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, citizenship status, marital status, pregnancy, age, medical condition (cancer related or HIV/AIDS related), handicap, disability or any other protected status in accordance with the requirements of local, state, and/or federal law in the educational programs or activities that we operate and we are required by Title IX and 40 C.F.R. § 5.140 not to discriminate in such a manner. Inquiries concerning the application of Title IX and requirements listed above may be referred to our Civil Rights Coordinator - Colin A. Kelly, Staff Attorney, 3151 Airway Ave., Suite F-110, Costa Mesa, CA 92626, (714) 850-1965 ext. 307.

The WHALES program is made possible by our generous sponsors:

Orange County Community Foundation

Western Digital

Southern California Edison

Sempra Energy Utility



CREEC Network

The Allergan Foundation

Back Bay Science Center- DFW

Bolsa Chica Conservancy

CA Coastal Commission- UNB

City of Costa Mesa

City of Laguna Beach

City of Newport Beach

City of Orange

Council for Watershed Health

Mesa Consolidated Water District

Naturalist For You

Heritage Museum of OC

OC MPA Council

OC Parks- Muth Center

OC Sanitation District

OC Water District

OC Watersheds

Pacific Marine Mammal Center

RBF Consulting

San Onofre Foundation

The Ecology Center

Trails 4 All

UC Cooperative Extension- South Coast Center- Irvine


November 2013: Taking WHALES to the next level!

Coastkeeper received 2 new grants that will help us bring the programs to new heights. THANKS to these Orange County-based sponsors, whose continued support makes our education efforts possible:

  • OC Community Foundation, $5,000: This generous award will help us establish a regional student monitoring project, "Watershed Explorers," with 3 schools during the 2013-2014 school year: Godinez Fundamental High School, La Habra High School, and Troy High School.
  • Western Digital Foundation, $5,000: Coastkeeper is thrilled to renew our partnership with the Western Digital Foundation. We will use this grant to enhance the scientific research components of the WHALES Program.

August 2013: It's fun to learn at the Y-M-C-A: Summer 2013

With funding from a 2012 Environmental Grant from the OC Community Foundation, Coastkeeper developed a summer Coastkeeper Club curriculum for YMCA sites across Orange County. During the 10-week program, we provided introductory lessons to 548 students, selected activities for 258 additional students and an in-depth program for 146 students. The YMCA kids created environmental art projects and became "neighborhood naturalists." Community youth program offer a great opportunity to inspire a new generation of environmental stewards, and we hope to continue the Coastkeeper Club next summer.

July 2013: A "WHALE" of a school year

Last year, Coastkeeper continued its streak of expanding the WHALES Program. With the help of our fantastic interns, volunteers and partners, we reached over 2,000 students and enrolled seven new schools in the program. In all, we completed 45 field trips and 83 in-class presentations. We also developed new partnerships with groups such as the San Onofre Foundation, OC Heritage Museum and Naturalist for You. We are excited to bring this momentum into the WHALES Program's 9th year!

In the Press: